restaurants in Metro Manila

Searching for NY-style pizza in Manila, these 5 friends decided to make and sell their own

Steph Arnaldo

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Searching for NY-style pizza in Manila, these 5 friends decided to make and sell their own
Local pizza shop Jabroni's in Power Plant Mall, Makati City is owned and operated by 5 young friends whose love for NY-style pizza binds them together

MANILA, Philippines – On a months-long hunt for the best New York-style pizza in town, five young friends decided to team up and make their own.

Scurrying around their first physical store at the lower ground floor of Powerplant Mall in Makati City, the five friends are seen embodying their respective roles in their self-owned pizza business. One is hastily taking orders from the long lines waiting outside, another is dishing out freshly-baked pizzas from the oven, and another is front-of-house, organizing the deluge of order tickets and checking on fast-moving inventory.

The five friends call themselves the “Jabronis,” after the slang term popularized by wrestler-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

WARM WELCOME. Long lines of hungry customers greeted Jabroni’s on their first opening weekend at Power Plant Mall, Rockwell. Steph Arnaldo/Rappler

Newly-opened pizza shop Jabroni’s is now an actual restaurant (although small and more takeout-friendly), situated at the busy, prime Makati mall. From its early days as a delivery-only cloud kitchen in 2023 based in the garage of Jabroni’s co-owner Emilio Ocampo, Jabroni’s is now open for three months (or longer) at the semi-permanent space, serving customers handmade New York-style pizza, every day of the week.

East Coast to Metro Manila

The no-frills, fresh, and red-and-white branding of Jabroni’s is heavily inspired by the streets of New York, patterned after the world-famous, family-owned pizza shops found on the city’s sidewalks.

NEW YORK-INSPIRED. From the pizza crust, flavors, and down to the no-frills branding, Jabroni’s is inspired by the owners’ travels to the East Coast. Steph Arnaldo/Rappler

Owner Emilio Ocampo told Rappler that the idea for Jabroni’s came after the group studied at the East Coast after graduation. Returning to the Philippines, they urgently searched for the best pizza to satisfy their pizza cravings (and no, Neopolitan pizzas wouldn’t do) – but to no avail.

POP-UP ERA. The boys serving pizzas and drinks themselves during Jabroni’s first physical pop-up. Emilio Ocampo

“The idea came from personal cravings for an authentic NY pizza which you cannot find anywhere in the Philippines. The idea was to fill this market gap by bringing the unique and authentic flavors of the bustling streets of NYC slice shops to Manila,” Emilio said.

“Our service is quick and easy and our store’s ambiance is casual, transporting clients to the casual vibe of NYC neighborhood joints.”

It can be challenging to set yourself apart in Manila’s saturated pizza market. The team chose to utilize NYC pizza’s strengths and picked up what they liked from their favorite slice shops in NYC and combined them to craft Jabroni’s.

“We blended the strong flavors and the good crunch of NYC slices that don’t slide off when you eat it with your hands,” Emilio said, using polenta for the crust to give it that crumby, grainy texture.

FRIENDS IN BUSINESS. The boys of Jabroni’s (L-R: Luis, Emilio, Ria, Blake, Justin) and Chef Ria during the R&D process, before opening Jabroni’s. Emilio Ocampo

The five are made up of Emilio, Luis Recto, head chef Ria Villarosa, Blake Hlatky, and Justin Uy, each one with a role to play in the business. It took around a year of intensive R&D to master the dough, Emilio said, and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to grow their side hustle as a hands-on team.

However, the Jabroni’s owners and their patrons can say that the grind was worth it – the long lines outside the Rockwell branch on its opening weeks are proof!

ROUND PIES. You can get two flavors in one 18″ pie – this is The White and the Vodka Roni. Steph Arnaldo/Rappler

Jabroni’s serves round 18″ pies, highlighting its charred undercarriage and crispy, thin crust. Customers can also get a 16″ square version, with a slightly thicker crust.

Jabroni’s crust is distinctly different; it’s not thick and airy, nor is it the delicately crisp Italian brick-oven style. It’s got a substantial bite, with a crispy, crumby bottom and a chewy, bubbly interior. It’s not decadently cheesy or dripping with toppings; it’s straight-to-the-point and simple, proud in its flavors and premium toppings.

THE POPEYE. Spinach, artichoke, cream, and cheese combine for a tasty slice of homemade, veggie-forward pizza. Steph Arnaldo/Rappler

The Popeye (starts at P770) features spinach, artichoke, mozzarella, and a cream-based sauce, making for a savory-tangy pie that hits all the right, creamy, flavorful notes. For pepperoni lovers, the Vodka Roni (P770) is a popular choice, featuring a tart layer of fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, punchy pepperoni, and vodka sauce with a slight kick (you can ask for an extra drizzle of the creamy, slightly tangy sauce and a shaving of fresh parmesan cheese).

If you love truffle, The White (P770) may be up your alley; it’s got a creamy white sauce, mozzarella, and fresh blobs of truffle ricotta that melt in your mouth when warm. The white truffle flavor is prominent enough, but not overpowering.

CRUST. Note that only a thin layer of sauce is set atop the thin crust, while the toppings are not scrimped on. Steph Arnaldo/Rappler

Other favorite flavors include The House (just red sauce and mozzarella), The Guido (red sauce, garlic ricotta, onions, meatballs), The Fatboy with pepperoni, meatballs, and sausage; The Garden (red sauce, onions, mozzarella, peppers, mushrooms), and The Supreme with all the works.

Feel free to split your pizza into two flavors of your choice!

“We love NYC pizza because it is enjoyed across all social classes. NYC pizza brings together people from all walks of life, it becomes a melting pot of different cultures, much like the vibrant city itself,” Emilio said.

Jabroni’s pies are best eaten fresh out of the oven in-store or quickly after take-out, as the crusts may be susceptible to too much chewiness otherwise. Jabroni’s is open at Power Plant P1 Level, Makati City for dine-in, takeout, and pick-up orders, as well as on Grab and foodpanda. –

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Steph Arnaldo

If she’s not writing about food, she’s probably thinking about it. From advertising copywriter to freelance feature writer, Steph Arnaldo finally turned her part-time passion into a full-time career. She’s written about food, lifestyle, and wellness for Rappler since 2018.